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Thu 3 Sep 2020 08:30 AM

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UAE-Israel: forget the politics, let's get down to business

Whatever the long-term ramifications of the UAE-Israel deal on the region, it's clear that opportunities abound for businesses in both countries

UAE-Israel: forget the politics, let's get down to business

Alex Malouf, communications professional and the only Chartered Communicator, Chartered Marketer, and Senior Communication Management Professional in the Middle East.

This year has most certainly been one of surprises. Not least the agreement between the UAE and Israel to begin formal negotiations on the path toward full recognition. It’s taken less than three weeks since the agreement was announced for a plane with the livery of Israel’s national carrier El Al to touch down in Abu Dhabi, bringing with it a media and trade delegation.

What is clear is that both sides want the relationship to develop quickly. What isn’t clear, at least in the media, is any understanding of the Israelis and what they want.

Let’s start with some basic facts. Israel is very much part of the Middle East, geographically and culturally. More than 20 percent of the population is Arab, and a slight majority of the Jewish population is Sephardim – or Middle Eastern in descent. Many Israelis know Arab culture well and speak the language; Hebrew and Arabic are both Semitic languages and are closely related.

In essence, Israeli businesses aren’t coming to the UAE to explore the region. They’re coming here because they see the possibilities in the country, both in terms of funding and the country’s focus on technology, such as artificial intelligence, big data and agritech.

What Israeli businesses care about is opportunity. The country’s expertise in defense is well-known, but there are other sectors that Israel, also known as the “Start-up Nation”, is looking to lead in. Take for example Israel’s pivot to agritech. The country is home to some of the most exciting agriculture-focused tech firms in the world, and Israeli agritech firms attracted $171m in equity investment in 2017, according to the non-profit Start-Up Nation Central.

The challenge for Israel is two-fold: Funding is often an issue for a country that has the highest number of start-ups per capita in the world. There is one start-up per 1,400 people based on 2019 numbers, meaning there’s a great deal of competition for venture capital, and Israeli entrepreneurs will be excited about the possibility of tapping into new funds here in the UAE.

And then there’s the issue of being able to scale up. Israel isn’t a large country – it’s far smaller in size than the UAE – and you can drive from end to end in roughly five hours. Limited space and a small customer base means that Israeli businesses and entrepreneurs have to look abroad early on. The UAE gives them another market to tap into which is only a couple of hours flight away.

Of course, there is the politics, an issue that certainly won’t be easy to overcome for many in the UAE – a country that has provided a home for generations of pioneering, ambitious Palestinians. While Israeli business leaders aren’t generally interested in talking about the situation back home, they equally won’t be shy about sharing their feelings if and when they’re asked about their views.

Given the long history of the conflict, many people are going to find it difficult to put aside their personal views when engaging with Israelis and Israeli businesses. Not all of us will have a choice on this matter.

Moving forward, we can expect the business relationship between the countries to grow rapidly. The Israelis are very clear on the business benefits of the agreement with the UAE, so it is now time to look beyond the poorly written editorials and negative assumptions and get down to business. There is much to be gained.

Alex Malouf, communications professional and the only Chartered Communicator, Chartered Marketer, and Senior Communication Management Professional in the Middle East

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